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My Mom's Book

In 2006, my Mom, Lorena R. Stanley-Molen, wrote a book called "A History of College Corner School." It's a wonderful 220-page collection of short stories and rare photos about growing up on a one-room school and in rural Oklahoma during the Depression. To her knowledge, it's the only history of that school and that particular area of southeastern Oklahoma.

I helped edit and paginate the book, so can vouch that it's a good read.

Its official title is much longer:
A History of College Corner School
Dist. No. 12
Lincoln County, Oklahoma
Childhood Remembrances

The book (ISBN 0-9776721-0-7) costs $19,95, plus $3.95 for shipping. I don't yet have e-commerce set up, so just email me and I'll take care of your order.

My Mom's class, in 1934-35. She's in the front row, second from the right.

Below is one chapter from the book called "Dust Storms."

Dust Storms

One particular incident that happened during my fourth grade year at College Corner was being involved in one of the dust storms so prevalent during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression.

It was the spring of 1935 and our teacher was Miss Audrey England. We children were becoming used to the darkened skies and the hushed tones of the farm families when they gathered and talked about the terrible storms. But life could not stop simply because nature chose to rearrange the geological features of our and surrounding states. We went about our regular routine of chores and school, eating, sleeping and playing, always alert to the coming of the darkened skies and the winds that picked up the swirling dust clouds. Young as we were, we still understood the anxiety the adults showed at a gathering storm.

Farm people have always watched the skies as a regular part of their lives. They have watched for the glow on the horizons that told them of a prairie fire running wild. Darkened skies might warn of a tornado or a cyclone or a drenching summer rain that laid waste to crops in the fields and tore great furrows across the dirt country roads and washed out the wooden bridges.

They watched for the crisp clear nights that brought frost to the meadows, leaving the prairie grass crunchy underfoot and long slivers of ice along the edges of the water holes where the livestock gathered to drink.

When the skies were moderately clear and the sun moved overhead in full view, we went about our routine as if all were perfectly normal. But as the skies darkened and the sun became only a deep orange sphere in the sky, all of us feared the worst. Not just people became cautious, the animals, too, knew and showed their anxiety.

I don't remember being told how to conduct myself in a dust storm, but we younger family members had only to watch and listen to know how serious a dust storm could be.

This particular day in my memory was a school day. It had been an early spring chill for we had worn our stocking caps to school. The skies darkened by early afternoon and the school teacher kept glancing out of the window. Finally she said very quietly, "Children, I think you need to go home now. Very quietly, put on your coats and hats and get your lunch buckets and go home. Be sure your parents know you are home safely." We were told to go straight home with no loitering or playing along the way. And so we were dismissed.

We three Stanley girls started home together. The dust blew so sharply against our faces that Dora, the oldest sister, told Nonie and me to pull our stocking caps down over our faces and the three of us to hold hands and she would lead us home one and one-half miles away.

She tried to lead us straight down the middle of the dirt road but the force of the wind and the swirling sand, plus her tugging, hooded sisters, forced her to find a more stable method of direction finding. She, too, had resorted to the stocking cap, face mask technique and after numerous times of wandering off the road and into the grader ditches, she realized it was safer to follow the barbed wire fence line alongside the road.

She knew we could walk north to the wooden bridge that crossed a small creek, cross the bridge, continue along the fence line until we reached the post that marked the end of the fence south of the Negro school house. Then she led us east down to our grandparents' home where we stopped every morning and evening going to and returning from school. Grandma had been watching for us and told us to hurry on home. "Your mother will be anxious about you children. Now don't dawdle!"

And Grandma was right. Mom was frantic. Once we were safely inside the house, Mom turned her thoughts to more pressing matters. The cows had to be brought to the milk lot from the pasture and she would not trust a child to do that job. Daddy was plowing in a north field and had not yet come to the barn with the work team. Mom was so worried she threatened if any of us stepped outside of the house and fell in the open well, she would kill us. That was funny but our humor didn't last long because we knew she was worried about us and the fact that Daddy was not yet home. Only when Daddy found his way to the house would she relax a bit.

We were left to stuff rags into the cracks along the window frames where the sand blew and drifted in. Layers of fine satin silt settled on everything – the furniture, the quilts covering the beds, the floor, our bodies, our hair. Even our baby sister, Carolyn, asleep on one of the beds, was covered with dust, the outline of her body on the quilt when we picked her up. Our evening meal was gritty.

The storm continued for a number of days and some times the wind would howl and blow all night. The following morning an adult would gently open the outside door, pushing away the drifted sand piled atop the stone doorstep. Little was said until a survey had been made of the night's storm damage.

Everything was covered – the roofs of the out-buildings, branches on the trees, every green vegetable or sprout in the gardens and fields. The water on the horse tank, spring, ponds had a layer of fine silt floating on the surface, a layer which had to be swept aside with the flat of a hand before the animals would drink.

Family members could foresee the damage the dust would do – the dust-covered crops, fouling of any open water supply, congestion of lungs, burning of the eyes and skin. But what surprised them the most was the velocity of the winds, the extent of the storms and the variety of colors revealed in the dirt deposits. Then and years later natives would remark on the different colored layers of soil deposited atop the red clay soil of the area where we grew up and wonder aloud what state or part of a state that particular color of soil had come from.

--Copyright 2006, Lorena R. Stanley-Molen